Politics: Arizona becomes epicenter of GOP challenges to 2022 election

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Arizona is now ground zero for GOP efforts to challenge the 2022 midterm results as the party seizes on allegations of voter disenfranchisement.

  Arizona becomes epicenter of GOP challenges to 2022 election © Provided by The Hill

On Tuesday, Republican attorney general candidate Abe Hamadeh took the latest step by filing a lawsuit challenging the results of his race, in which his Democratic rival leads by 510 votes out of more than 2.5 million ballots ahead of an expected recount.

That comes after two GOP-led counties in the Grand Canyon State voted to delay certifying the election results. Meanwhile, a battle is growing in the most populous jurisdiction of Maricopa County, where election officials acknowledge printer mishaps but insist affected voters still had multiple options to cast a ballot.

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The efforts come after former President Trump and his allies tried to stop the certification of President Biden’s victory in 2020, fueling concerns over election denialism within the Republican Party.

“This is really a small group of folks who are acting outside of their authority,” said Jenny Gimian, senior policy counsel at election education nonprofit Informing Democracy. “The normal process in Arizona has really a lot of checks on accuracy. It’s very thorough, very systemic and includes the participation and involvement of both the major parties at all the steps along the road.”

Kari Lake, a Trump ally who lost to Democrat Katie Hobbs in Arizona’s gubernatorial race earlier this month, refused to concede and called for an election redo. Trump himself took things further by claiming without evidence that officials deliberately “took the election away” from Lake.

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“Whether done accidentally or intentionally, it is clear that this election was a debacle that destroyed any trust in our elections,” Lake said on Monday.

But the sentiment isn’t shared by all Republicans in the state. Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who drew Trump’s ire after refusing to overturn the 2020 election results, on Wednesday broke with Lake and publicly congratulated Hobbs on her victory.

Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters conceded to Sen. Mark Kelly (D) last week, but Masters still demanded Maricopa’s Board of Supervisors resign, calling them at best “grossly negligent.”

Officials in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, acknowledge that printers at 70 of the county’s 223 vote centers on Election Day used ink too light for tabulation machines to read, but they say voters could wait in line until the issue was solved, cast a ballot at another vote center or deposit their ballot in a separate box for tabulation later.

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Hamadeh’s lawsuit, which the Republican National Committee joined, makes clear it does not allege “any fraud, manipulation or other intentional wrongdoing.”

But among other allegations, the suit claims Maricopa officials failed to properly check out more than 400 affected voters who later cast ballots at another vote center or in a drop box, suggesting the issues will result in their ballots not being counted and shift the outcome of the extremely close attorney general race.

“Maricopa County’s election failures disenfranchised Arizonans. We’re going to court to get the answers voters deserve,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote on Twitter.

The suit requests a state judge order officials to amend their tabulations to include the affected voters and certify Hamadeh as the winner.

Maricopa County Communications Manager Jason Berry declined to comment on the lawsuit but said, “Everyone had the opportunity to cast a ballot and all legal ballots are counted.”

“This race is scheduled to go to a recount, where they will look at some of those processes again and review to again ensure in a close race that they have not missed any errors that happened throughout,” said Gimian, of Informing Democracy. “So it really feels unlikely that this is substantive enough to change the outcome.”

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Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) separately demanded Maricopa officials answer questions about the mishaps, and the county has promised to respond ahead of a Monday meeting to certify its election canvass.

Meanwhile, protesters at times have shown up near the county’s central election facility. On Friday, a vehicle convoy circled the area in a strategy drawn from the “Freedom Convoy” earlier this year, which protested Canadian pandemic restrictions.

“Threats have become a sadly normal occurrence for our election officials and election staff since the November 2020 election,” Berry said, adding that he did not yet know how many threats were received after the midterms.

Outside of Maricopa, citizens in rural parts of the state have convinced GOP officials in two counties to delay certification.

In Cochise County, which comprises Arizona’s southeastern corner, three conspiracy theorists claimed without evidence that vote machines there weren’t properly certified, convincing the two Republicans on the county’s three-person board to support a delay.

That included Supervisor Peggy Judd (R), who attended Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, rally and promoted unfounded claims of mass election fraud in 2020, although she told the Tucson Sentinel that she never entered the Capitol.

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Following the vote, both Arizona’s state elections director and Elias Law Group, which represents clients in a number of high-profile election cases, sent separate letters to the county threatening legal action if it does not certify by Monday’s statutory deadline.

“The board is sort of turning this ministerial act into an act of political theater,” said Jared Davidson, an attorney with Protect Democracy. “They should follow the will of the voters of Cochise County and certify the results, that’s their duty. Refusing to certify the results will nullify or effectively disenfranchise those voters, the majority of whom are Republican.”

In the opposite corner of Arizona, Mohave County’s GOP-controlled board praised election officials there as it delayed certifying its canvass on Monday, describing it as a political statement in the wake of the Maricopa issues.

“Mohave County has become, their votes have been worth less than they were prior to this vote due to the mismanagement and the dysfunction of the Maricopa County Elections Department,” Mohave County GOP Chairwoman Jeanne Kentch said at the meeting.

Supervisor Hildy Angius (R) said in an email on Wednesday that “many groups and individuals” had approached the county to delay certification, and she vowed to certify this coming Monday.

“I will not put Mohave County into any legal or financial jeopardy over Maricopa’s mishandling,” Angius wrote. “This vote was just to delay the certification so those who are investigating and possibly litigating have more time to do what they need to do.”

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